US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to meet Taliban and Afghan government negotiators in Qatar on Saturday, whose talks show first signs of progress, as Donald Trump accelerates the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan despite the violence persistent.
A series of strong explosions rocked central Kabul on Saturday, including several that sounded closely, AFP journalists reported.
“Around 8:40 am this morning, the terrorists fired 23 rockets at the city of Kabul,” said Interior Minister Tariq Arian’s spokesman, adding that at least “eight people were killed and 31 others were killed. injured ”.
The explosions occurred in densely populated areas of the Afghan capital. No claims have yet been made, but Afghan government officials have blamed the Taliban.
In this still tense context, the services of Mike Pompeo announced that he would hold separate meetings in Doha, the capital of the emirate where he attended on February 29 the signing of a historic agreement between the United States and the Taliban to end the longest American military intervention in history, and where the inter-Afghan peace negotiations are taking place.
Mike Pompeo must also meet the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim ben Hamad Al-Thani, as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, during this stage in Doha, the diplomatic base of the Afghan insurgents.
Donald Trump’s minister, who will arrive from Abu Dhabi, ends this weekend in the Gulf a tour of seven countries in Europe and the Middle East as the outgoing president, while refusing to recognize the victory of Democrat Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election is stepping up his end-of-term priorities.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced the withdrawal of some 2,000 additional troops from Afghanistan by January 15: five days before President-elect Biden takes office, only 2,500 will remain. .
The timetable set out in an agreement between Washington and the Taliban calls for a complete departure of troops in mid-2021, but on the basis of conditions that many observers do not consider met at this stage.
Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to put an end to the “endless wars” of the United States, especially in Afghanistan where the American army intervened after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Washington’s European allies, but also some republican tenors, have expressed their concern about this withdrawal, which many consider premature.
Joe Biden, on rare common ground with Donald Trump, also wants to end the war in Afghanistan, even if the terms of the withdrawal may vary between the two men.
A sign of possible continuity on this delicate issue, several voices are also calling on the Democrat to keep the American negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad in office once in the White House.
Negotiations since mid-September
The insurgents began their first direct negotiations with the Kabul government in mid-September, but these discussions almost immediately collapsed due to disagreements.
After two months without real progress, several sources told AFP on Friday that the two sides appeared to have resolved a key point of disagreement over the rules of the negotiations.
They opened after the agreement between the Taliban and Washington, the United States agreeing to withdraw their troops in exchange for guarantees on security and on the start of talks.
But violence has increased across the country, with rebels stepping up daily attacks against Afghan security forces.
The withdrawal of part of the troops by January 15 has been criticized by residents of Kabul who fear it will encourage the Taliban to start a new wave of fighting.
Afghan civilians have long been the main victims of the conflict.
The authorities in Kabul also fear that the Taliban will harden their positions in the negotiations, where key issues such as women’s rights are at stake.